A product of contemplation; a thought: "an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas).
Today it brings me great pleasure to welcome Lyn. G Farrell to the blog. I am not too shy to admit I was over the moon when she agreed to answer my questions, you see I adore her debut novel The Wacky Man. It is a book that I would urge everybody to read. You can see my thoughts on it here.
My new shrink asks me, 'What things do you remember about being very young?' It's like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone...
As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?
Without further ado, I shall hand over to Lyn. Welcome to the blog and thank you so much for taking the time.
1) Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
You could describe me as a ‘late bloomer’. As a former chronic truant due to my situation at home, I lived in an isolated limbo for a long time, though I read anything I could lay my hands on and watched mammoth amounts of American black and white melodrama in the afternoons. I returned to education at nineteen and university at twenty three, studied for my Masters at thirty five, joined a band at thirty seven, had my first novel published at forty seven and will (hopefully) pass my driving test at forty eight. My motto is ‘It’s never too late’ J
My younger life was all about survival but nowadays it’s about creativity and caring. I like to campaign for human rights and animal welfare and I’m addicted to learning (FutureLearn is the most incredible, free resource for anyone who wants to study a plethora of subjects from journalism to song writing) and some of my favourite things include world cinema, reading, growing my own tomatoes and chillies, and learning to drive (yes, really, I love it).
2) As you know I loved your novel. Could you tell us a bit about The Wacky Man, for those who haven’t read it yet?
Thanks so much for your kind words and so pleased you liked it. The Wacky Man is about Amanda, an intelligent, articulate teenager, who is struggling to cope with the violence and abuse she has suffered at the hands of her father. She is raw and angry and in desperate need and the reader finds themselves sitting with her as she tells her story.
3) Which writers do you admire?
I love so many writers that I could write a list that filled a book! I like a lot of genres, from sci fi to literary, love classic or contemporary fiction, and I like to read translated fiction (trying to read my way around the world as it were). So when I’m asked this question, I just have to write down the authors that spring to mind first. It would be easier to photograph my bookshelves and even that wouldn’t show the countless books I’ve given away after reading!
I would love to have the imaginative power to write fiction similar to that I loved as a child. Some of my favourite childhood books - Watership Down, The Water Babies, The Golden Goblet, Huckleberry Finn and the Mr Men.
I came across Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker as a teenager and they showed me that difficult subjects can be the focus of quality, literary fiction. I love Barbara Kingsolver, Elif Shafak, Sandra Cineros, Doris Lessing, Jean Rys, Hilary Mantel, Kate Grenville and Zadie Smith. I read fiction by men too; Yevgeny Zamyatin, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, Honor de Balsac, Cormac McCarthy, Chekov, Italo Calvino, John Irving, Sid Smith, Gabriel García Márquez and Haruki Murakami.
4) If you had to give one book only as a present, which would it be?
It would have to be ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ by Marge Piercy. This had such a powerful impact on me as a young teenager and raises lots of questions about society and what it is to be male or female. It really was a pivotal book for me and I’ve often bought this to give away as a present. I really recommend it.
5) Are you writing currently, if so is there something you can tell us about that?
I’m preparing for my second novel – lots of note making and research. It’s about the healing power of unusual friendship so it’s a very different feel to my first book. Though it will also focus on the way life can be derailed, it’s looking at it from the opposite, healing, side of the experience.
6) How important is the cover of a book in your opinion?
I’d never thought of this in any depth until I saw the amount of interest the cover to my novel generated. It made me realise the impact it was having and I then thought about my own ‘cover’ behaviour. I am often put off by pastel coloured covers with swirly writing and I think I’m missing some absolute gems because of the cover design. A bold cover that leaps out but doesn’t fully explain itself draws me in so I’d say it’s absolutely crucial. I struck gold with my cover designer.
7) What made you become a writer?
I had the Wacky Man in my head since I was about thirty. I thought if I ignored it, it would go away but it just bubbled away until I had to get it written down. I sometimes struggle to see myself as a ‘writer’ because the novel took me ten years to write (about ¾ of that just learning how to write – on reflection a creative writing course would have saved me lots of grey hair and stress). I have another novel ‘bubbling away’ now in the back of my mind but I am finding that it’s a slow process once again. I hope it won’t take me another ten years but who knows?
8) The themes in The Wacky Man are dark and presented in a bold way that you can’t shy away from but also with a bit of humour in places, did you intend it to shock?
I never intended it to shock, no. I wanted people to actually feel the life that Amanda was living, that so many battered kids have to face, and that was the driving force behind the way I wrote. I knew it would be difficult for people to read but felt that a battered child has as much right in fiction as any other character.
I understand that many people who haven’t experienced abuse in childhood will find this a shocking novel and that many want different stories to the one I wrote but I would hope they can see why it was written (imagine surviving such a childhood when you read this novel). I wrote The Wacky Man from experience, with care and purpose and with every ounce of skill I possess. I’ve seen other books with tough subjects called misery fiction, misery lit or misery porn and I find that a truly disappointing and dismissive label. It’s a way of reducing some writing into a perceived ‘lesser’ or ‘not worthy’ form.
I’m really heartened by the fact that so many reviewers, including your good self, have described it as ‘tough subject, beautiful writing’ because I had two aims with this novel: to raise awareness about battered children and to write the most beautiful fiction I was capable of. I am overwhelmed that the vast majority of readers so far saw what I was trying to do with The Wacky Man.
9) What are your writing habits and space like?
I tend to have periods where I can nothing but write followed by times when I’ll do anything but write. My writing habits of late have been rather ill disciplined because I’ve become addicted to ‘The Good Wife’ and there are still about five seasons to get through! I also have to write around my full time job so my productivity is decided by how long or challenging the work day has been. I’m lucky enough to work at home at least half of the week which gives me extra time and even if I’m not writing I will be making notes, jotting down ideas or researching and reading so I’m never completely removed from the process.
I have a room where I write which sounds glamorous but actually it’s just my bedroom. It’s a large room but I have everything squashed in there. Bed, wardrobes, desk, computer, bookshelves, cross trainer! My desk is by the window so my view is of one of the car parks to my block of flats which luckily isn’t terribly busy in the day, otherwise I’d be more distracted.
10) What is the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your writing?
Recently it would be the ‘Sky Burial’ – in parts of Tibet the dead are cut up and left out for the vultures to eat. I felt a bit ‘funny’ at this ‘funeral practice’ compared to our own prayers and coffins but when I looked at it in context it makes perfect sense. The mountainous ground is far too hard to bury people in and vultures in Buddhist culture are important because they eat meat but never kill so they’re seen as a force for good. Worms eat our dead anyway – it’s just more hidden from us! I think this Tibetan burial practice is a great example of how, when you examine something deeply, it stops seeming strange or even sinister sounding and becomes something human and peaceful.
11) Could you tell us something about you that people wouldn’t necessary know?
I sing. I have always loved singing but far too shy to sing in public. I finally plucked up courage to join an evening class and went on to do open mics and even join a local band – and all of this in my late thirties. I found performing too anxiety provoking so gave it up for a few years but have just got back into singing at a local music night that I’m running with a friend. I find singing taps into a very different part of me than the writing does, but I love it just as much.
Lyn G Farrell grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if things had been different. She studied Psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Leeds, later gaining a PGCET and most recently, a Masters in ICT and Education. Having worked in a number of IT and teaching roles, she is currently an online tutor in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.
She has also been nominated for Not The Booker Prize 2016.